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12/27/07 The Nationals Are Willing To Take The Risks...The Rays?...Uh, Not So Much...

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     I subscribed to espn.com around this time two years ago, desperate for any Hot Stove news I could find, and convinced by some of the free offerings, that Buster Olney's blog was by far the best time-saving destination for omnivorous readers of baseball news. As a consequence of my online subscription, the good folks at espn.com also began sending me"ESPN the Magazine" every week or so, and all for the low-low price of $30 dollars a year...

      Which really is a good deal. I would subscribe for access to Mr. Olney's blog alone, because in all honesty, I can only bring myself to read two pages of the Magazine, which they have annoyingly taken to calling "The Mag", those two pages being the NHL and MLB Insider sections located after all of "The Mag's" MAXIM-ized sports coverage...(ed. note- "OK three pages, I also read Stuart Scott's "Two Way" cause I can't get enough reader mail...seriously.)...

     This week a piece by baseball Guru/Writer/TV Personality Tim Kurkjian called "Risk Management" in the "MLB Insider" section piqued my interest. In Mr. Kurkjian's column he discusses the differing approaches two long suffering franchises, the Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals, have taken in attempting to build their teams into contenders, with the connection between the teams, of course, being the trade of Elijah Dukes to DC.

    Mr. Kurkjian notes the Nationals GM Jim Bowden's penchant for choosing "reclamation projects" and cites as examples, Dmitri Young from last season, and the acquisitions of Lastings Milledge and Dukes this Winter while noting that DY's '07 season was such a success that he is now being looked to as a mentor for the supremely talented, but seemingly self-destructive Dukes.

     The Tampa Bay De..uh, Tampa Bay Rays, in contrast, have in Mr. Kurkjian's words, decided to "subtract risk" from the equation by trading volatile players like Delmon Young and Dukes, for a potential future ace in Matt Garza and twenty-eight year old infielder Jason Bartlett from Minnesota for DY's brother Delmon, and acquiring highly-regarded Minor League prospect Glenn Gibson from the Nationals for Dukes...with Garza, Bartlett and Gibson having no controversy in any of their backgrounds at all.

     The Rays had more than enough reasons to part with both Young and Dukes, who both have had well-documented personal problems at home and with the team. According to Mr. Kurkjian's column, Rays Manager Joe Maddon also cited the "sense of entitlement" their former 1st and 3rd Round picks exhibited, which, when combined with the myriad of other issues the two presented, ultimately made Tampa's decision a fairly easy one...

      But as Mr. Kurkjian presents the two sides, it's more a matter of how you assess risk, with Nationals Team President citing the 1980's era Boston Celtics of the NBA as a model of how a successful franchise is built by, "...taking chances," while the Tampa Bay Rays are portrayed as "minimizing risk" to increase the odds for success.

     The Rays approach does not end on the field either, as their new name reveals. The organization has also attempted to minimize the risk of even possibly alienating fans who might potentially be offended by the inclusion of the word, "Devil" in the teams' original nickname.

     But Tampa Ray's President Matt Silverman provided a reasoned explanation for the name change, stating in an article written in part by three writers...(ed.note- "3? Really?")...Chris Tisch, Carrie Weimar and Louis Hau of the St. Petersburg Times, entitled, "Devil Rays may play name game" from a full year before the name-change, in which Mr. Silverman somewhat cryptically explains:

         "There are some that don't have a positive reaction to the
         word devil...There are some who don't have a positive
         reaction to a devil ray. What is a devil ray? If we make a
         change, it will be something that will be more accessible
         and appeal to everyone . . . or at least not drive people
         away."

     For a team that's that conscious of it's public image, the idea of allowing Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes to stay in Tampa Bay simply became untenable, while the Nationals have a firm belief in their ability to allow their players to succeed, with Mr. Kurkjian quoting Mr. Kasten as saying, "Look what we did by taking a chance on Dmitri Young," which fails to verbally acknowledge the efforts of Mr. Young himself, but does serve to once again highlight the attitude the Nationals, as an organization, have adopted...

     While the Rays are happy to be rid of the distraction Dukes had become, the Nationals are sure that they can allow Elijah Dukes to realize the hype that has followed through four Minor League seasons during which he's averaged a .272 BA, 20 doubles, around 4 triples, 11 HR's and 56 RBI's and a rookie year in the Majors, where Dukes homered in his first MLB at bat, and followed the next night with his second home run in the Majors, before finishing the season prematurely with 3 doubles, 2 triples, 10 HR's and 21 RBI's in just 52 games...

*Nationals/Rays Tim Kurkjian Links*

Article by Chris Tisch, Carrie Weimar and Louis Hau of the St. Petersburg Times, entitled, "Devil Rays may play name game":

http://www.sptimes.com/2006/04/06/Rays/Devil_Rays_may_play_n.shtml

Tim Kurkjian's archive at espn.go.com:

http://sports.espn.go.com/keyword/search?searchString=tim_kurkjian

Buster Olney's blog at espn.com...(for INSIDERS only):

http://insider.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?name=olney_buster&action=login&appRedirect=http%3 a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fespn%2fblog%2findex%3fname%3dolney_buster